12 February 2021

Opinion: Safety standards and the role of the insurer

Safety concerns and fire risks run throughout the waste and recycling and waste to energy sectors and also relate to the crucial part insurers need to play in driving up safety standards. James Mountain, sales and marketing director at Fire Shield Systems, discusses some of the issues involved.

OPINION: The storage of combustible materials, the constant use of machinery and waste’s naturally ability to heat over time all increase fire risks. While the Environment Agency (EA) has outlined the requirement for Fire Prevention Plans (FPPs) for all sites, improvement is still needed to ensure maximum safety. Insurers are crucial for driving this change.

Although the EA has made FPPs mandatory for all sites, often these will only state the need to install ‘a suppression solution’, which can result in a general lack of effective fire prevention and suppression systems across the industry. Often, these decisions are driven by costs, which can mean that sites unknowingly cut corners in selecting cheaper systems that don’t address the individual risks of the site.

The role of the insurer is vital in fire safety system planning

Insured systems are often the result of a manufacturer’s deal. For example, a forklift truck can be pre-fitted with a vehicle fire suppression system, installed as part of a bulk deal with a manufacturer. However, this ‘blanket’ approach to fire suppression fails to address the unique operating conditions and environment that a piece of machinery may be in.


As most insurance underwriting templates simply stipulate the need for ‘an approved system’, businesses often only implement the measures needed to pass the minimal approval requirements. This is where insurers have a key role to play in driving up standards.

Insurers need to make use of certification bodies to inform decisions, such as FM, Vds, LPCB, SPCR (P-Mark). An FM approval mark, for example, signifies that the manufacturer has undertaken extensive auditing and testing protocols to ensure that a solution has been stringently evaluated for a specific application. The SPCR 199 fire test protocol evaluates the effectiveness of fire protection systems for heavy vehicles and machinery.

Insurers need to recommend the right systems for the right sites and environments, and education is crucial for that. It’s a win-win scenario. Standards and third party testing protocols can give greater clarity on how suitable systems are, allowing businesses to make the right decision for their individual needs. For insurers, a safer site means decreased fire risk, reducing pay out claims and costs.

AUTHOR: James Mountain of Fire Shield Systems

The evolving nature of safety

The waste sector has long been seen as a ‘rogue’ operating area. With the EA becoming heavier handed with the implementation of safety legislation, the industry has moved forward. However, there’s still a way to go.

A number of factors are currently influencing risk within the sector, including Brexit and the resulting implications of the Basel Convention regulations.

Since 1 January 2021, the transport of waste between the UK and the EU is now subject to the Basel Convention regulations instead of EU regulation. For the waste sector, recent amendments to the Basel Convention on plastic waste has resulted in plastic waste streams needing ‘prior notification’ before shipment. ‘Green List’ controls allow separated single stream plastics to move without prior informed consent, so long as they have been made with all non-OECD countries directly.

These agreements are not yet in place and do not cover all types of plastic waste, meaning it is likely that additional delays will occur, resulting in waste handling facilities having to store plastic waste for extended periods and operate closer to storage capacity. This subsequently increases fire risk and a site’s reliance on its fire detection and suppression systems.


The EA will continue to drive up fire safety measures for the industry. To aid this, the insurance industry needs to adopted effective safety standards, such as the FM approval and SPCR (P-Mark), to decrease the use of substandard fire prevention and suppression systems.

Fire protection relies on selecting and insuring the right systems for individual sites. As such, insurers need to consider individual operating environments. That is paramount for driving up safety standards.


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